The 1985 Chicago Bears. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The 2013 Seattle Seahawks. The 2023 Dallas Cowboys. This isn’t a game of “One of these things is not like the other.” In most circles, those first three teams listed are respected as having the greatest defenses in NFL history.
And the 2023 Cowboys are already making a convincing argument to join this conversation.
Putting the Cowboys defense in conversation with the best
For many NFL purists, no defense will ever top the ‘85 Bears, which had Hall of Famer Mike Singletary leading the team at middle linebacker, and Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense sending seismic waves through the league.
The ‘00 Ravens are a strong comparison to that great Bears defense. Ray Lewis is his generation’s Singletary. The Ravens still hold the league record for fewest rushing yards (970) and points per game allowed (10.3) in a 16-game season.
For my money, the ‘13 Seahawks are the greatest defense of all time. “The Legion of Boom” matched up with the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning breaking single-season passing records in perhaps his best pro season.
Yet, the Seahawks shut Manning and the Broncos down, winning 43-8 en route to claiming the championship. And this is an era in which defenses aren’t supposed to achieve what they did.
Those three defenses still define the franchises they represented.
The ‘23 Cowboys have the ability to achieve that same feat, and that would be a bigger achievement than the other three teams mentioned.
Redefining the NFL's most recognizable franchise
With all due respect to the Bears, Ravens and Seahawks, those franchises don't have the storied Super Bowl history that the Cowboys do. The Bears and Seahawks have won a single Super Bowl. The Ravens have won two.
And yes, the Bears are one of the NFL's original franchises, and George Halas made sure they could compete for league championships on an annual basis, but that's ancient history to even apprised football fans.
The Cowboys have five Super Bowls. It remains the most recognizable NFL franchise worldwide. Its list of legends dwarfs that of most teams.
Dallas’ Doomsday defense had much to do with the two Super Bowls won in 1971 and 1977, although it’s the offense captained by Roger Staubach that gets much of the credit.
The Cowboys had good defenses for their three championships in the 1992, ‘93 and ‘95 seasons, but it was the Triplets of Troy, Emmitt and Michael stealing the headlines. Even the offensive line gets more acclaim than the defense.
That won’t be the case if the Cowboys find themselves in position to win a Super Bowl this season.
As was demonstrated in Sunday night’s demolishing of the New York Giants, the defense defines this team.
It’s the relentless pass rush led by Micah Parsons and complemented by DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong and others that steals the headlines.
It’s game changing plays made by a secondary with a trio of top-notch safeties and two ball-hawking cornerbacks that have the Cowboys in position to lead the league in turnovers for a third consecutive season.
That feat hasn’t been accomplished since the Pittsburgh Steelers did it from 1972 to 1974. Those “Steel Curtain” defenses set the standard for the franchise, and we still attribute great defense to the Steelers.
It’s the expectation with them, just like it is for the Bears, Ravens and Seahawks whether it’s actually true in a given season or not.
This Dallas defense is molding the image of the Cowboys in its own likeness.